Walk: Durlston Head and Dancing Ledge, Dorset

Explore the stunning cliffs and moors of the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset on a five-mile walk

Durlston Bay, Dorset

Dancing Ledge, a cliff-top beauty spot on the Isle of Purbeck, played a key role in the BBC’s 2008 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. During the spring parade, Angel Clare is first introduced to Tess.

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It’s a defining moment because, to Tess’s disappointment, Angel chooses to dance with another girl, and so begins the chain of events that make up Hardy’s tale of love, betrayal and murder.

1

Durlston Head

From the car park outside the visitor centre, follow signs to Anvil Point Lighthouse. Take the main track leading to the lighthouse, not the steep diagonal path. At a point where the main track continues left downhill towards the lighthouse, continue straight ahead on a grassy path. Pass a wooden gate on your right, waymarked with a green butterfly, and continue straight through a kissing gate. At a fork in the path, head right over a stone stile into a field. Continue straight along the grassy path until you reach a kissing gate, where once again you carry straight on.

Looking east from Durlston head
Looking east from Durlston Head ©Geograph
2

Heathland

Continue through the heathland until you reach a wooden kissing gate, signposted Upper Path ahead, and head through the gate to follow the Upper Path at a slight diagonal, across a field and through a gap in a stone wall. Pass a granite headstone on your right. At a fork, take the right fork leading uphill, passing another granite headstone and through a gap in a stone wall into a field. Follow a grassy path until you reach a stone stile and a granite headstone on the right. To your left you will see two high pylons, marked on the OS map as mile indictor posts. These, with an identical pair one nautical mile east, are the last set of naval mileposts on mainland Britain.

3

Indicators

Walk along the grassy path and through a metal gate. Keep on the path as it passes through a field, following a stone wall on your right. Continue through a wooden gate and follow a narrow path that weaves along the hillside above an area of thick bracken.

Keep following the track through a wooden gate into a small field edged with a stone wall. Follow the path straight across the field and through an open gateway into a larger field, also bordered with a stone wall. Again, cut straight through the centre of the field and exit through an open gateway into another field. Keep to the far left side of this field, passing a small wooden gate on your left until a narrow path drops down left into a valley.

mile indicator posts
Mile indicator posts on the Purbeck coast ©Jim Champion, Geograph
4

To the sea

Follow this path downhill and through a gap in the hedgerow, before following a grassy path that gradually inclines to a wooden gate with metal rungs. Continue through the gate and follow a track alongside a stone wall until you reach a granite headstone; take the path that drops sharply downhill to Dancing Ledge. The limestone ledge is a remnant of Purbeck’s quarrying industry and is so called because the stone cut out of it was the same size as a ballroom dance floor.

5

Dancing Ledge

After exploring the ledge, return to the cliff-top and join the South West Coast Path, following the signs east to Durlston. At the first wooden gate, make sure you look back to see Dancing Ledge in all its glory. Keep on the coastal path as it undulates past the mile indictor posts and back into Durlston Country Park. Take the cliff-side path to the right of Anvil Point Lighthouse, along a the coastal path past Tilly Whim Caves and the second set of mile indictor posts. Finally, follow a tarmac path up past Durlston Castle, back to the visitor centre.

Map

click on the map below for a interactive version of the route.

Durlston head and Dancing Ledge map

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Main image ©Getty